Here are my thoughts for the first Sunday in Advent.
If one only glanced quickly at the readings for today (Isaiah 64: 1 – 9; Mark 13: 24 – 37), it would be very difficult to think of them as Advent readings. But the calendar says that it is late autumn, the days are getting longer, and it is the time for the season of Advent. So how is it that readings that have almost an apocalyptic overtone are used for Advent?
Advent is the time and the season for preparation, the preparation of the coming of Christ. But it is a joyful and peaceful season. The apocalypse, especially in the writings of the Book of the Revelation of John, is neither joyful nor peaceful. But the word apocalypse simply means to reveal or to uncover. For this season we must reject the literal notion of the apocalypse and focus on its true meaning, its meaning for the here and now.
During Advent, the voices of the prophets come through loud and clear, preparing us for the coming of God in human form. Should we not hear the words of Isaiah, “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth,” as a wake-up call?
But just as the prophets provided cold clarity about what it means to be God’s people and what our responsibilities are to each other and to God, so too did they remind us that God refuses to give up on us.
This is what Paul is telling us in his letter to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 1: 3 – 9) Paul writes, “I give thanks to God always, specifically those who are members of the body of Christ.” He is assuring us that God has already given us the strength we need to bear whatever comes in our life. Perhaps we should use this blessing in those moments in church where we pass the peace of Christ between friends and strangers. Who knows what might happen if we say this and find out that we truly mean it?
The common notion of the apocalypse is one of destruction and death, of completion and ending. But the apocalypse is more a sign of things to come, a sign of hope. After all, even Christ’s words are an offering of the hope that is to come, not the destruction. Christ’s words are directed towards a destruction of our own making, not God’s work. And if the destruction that we fear is ours to make, so too is the chance for peace and hope, but only if we come to Christ. Again we hear Paul’s words, telling us that God gives us the strength we need to bear whatever comes our way.
The Preacher wrote, “to every thing there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Advent is a season of preparation, of preparing for the coming of Christ. We think of it more in terms of His birth rather than in terms of His Second Coming. But perhaps we should think of it more in terms of the rebirth of our community, of our chance to focus on a community for the new age. The words we hear today are a reminder that we, as a people, share in the same call to purpose proclaimed by Isaiah. We are the people who are the clay, to be formed by God. We are the work of God, for His purpose and His end.
Jesus tells us that just as the fig tree knows when it is time to put forth its shoots and then its fruit, so too will we know when it is time. But it is something that we know only through Him, not without Him. If we try to tell what time of the season it might be without Christ in our lives, we will never know. If we see the readings for today as a sign of the end, we will never have the opportunity to see the joy, the peace, and the hope that are to come.
We sing of God’s help in ages past but that is not all there is to the song.
United Methodist Hymnal #117
Not only do we sing of His help in ages past, we sing of His help in days to come. That is what this season is about. We do not fear what has past; we rejoice in the chance to make things right and celebrate the birth of Christ and the chance for the birth of a new community. As we reread Isaiah’s words, we see that they are words of hope, that though things may seem bad, God is still hear amidst the darkness and desolation of the time and season.
This is the season of Advent; this is the season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. We celebrate this coming as a birth but we are reminded that we should celebrate His coming as the crucified and risen Savior, who has come to bring hope, peace and joy into the world. Let us resolve today to open our hearts and, as we look upon the babe in the manger, we let the Christ come in. And as we let Christ into our hearts, let us resolve to work in the world around us so that life begins anew, a community that seeks joy, peace, and hope.